Objective: Individuals with neurological disease or injury such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury or stroke may become tetraplegic, unable to speak or even locked-in. For people with these conditions, current assistive technologies are often ineffective. Brain-computer interfaces are being developed to enhance independence and restore communication in the absence of physical movement. Over the past decade, individuals with tetraplegia have achieved rapid on-screen typing and point-and-click control of tablet apps using intracortical brain-computer interfaces (iBCIs) that decode intended arm and hand movements from neural signals recorded by implanted microelectrode arrays. However, cables used to convey neural signals from the brain tether participants to amplifiers and decoding computers and require expert oversight, severely limiting when and where iBCIs could be available for use. Here, we demonstrate the first human use of a wireless broadband iBCI.
Methods: Based on a prototype system previously used in pre-clinical research, we replaced the external cables of a 192-electrode iBCI with wireless transmitters and achieved high-resolution recording and decoding of broadband field potentials and spiking activity from people with paralysis. Two participants in an ongoing pilot clinical trial completed on-screen item selection tasks to assess iBCI-enabled cursor control.
Results: Communication bitrates were equivalent between cabled and wireless configurations. Participants also used the wireless iBCI to control a standard commercial tablet computer to browse the web and use several mobile applications. Within-day comparison of cabled and wireless interfaces evaluated bit error rate, packet loss, and the recovery of spike rates and spike waveforms from the recorded neural signals. In a representative use case, the wireless system recorded intracortical signals from two arrays in one participant continuously through a 24-hour period at home.
Significance: Wireless multi-electrode recording of broadband neural signals over extended periods introduces a valuable tool for human neuroscience research and is an important step toward practical deployment of iBCI technology for independent use by individuals with paralysis. On-demand access to high-performance iBCI technology in the home promises to enhance independence and restore communication and mobility for individuals with severe motor impairment.